john baldessari interview from 1973


Roth: What kind of paintings did you do?

Baldessari: Well, I had a funny idea about art history, which was rather cloudy. When I began college [at San Diego State] I didn’t know who Matisse was, or Picasso. I remember taking a basic art history course and just being horrified at seeing a Matisse, and the instructor said to me, “You know, tastes change, you’ll probably like him!” And sure enough by the end of the year I was copying every brush stroke of Matisse. Then I got into some kind of a cross between the structure of Cèzanne and a three-dimensional configuration of Matisse, and then, working from that into some of the ideas of Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. I kept on adding things to the surface—just like Braque adding sand and collage material, I would add tar and canvas and pins to try to get more of a viscous surface going. Then I began to get into Dada and Surrealism, and saw there a way to get out from the surface, to go out from it. And then from that work—in which I sort of figured out some of the ideas of Cubism using portions of words and letters-I began to photograph torn-down buildings that I would use as source material. They provided a model for the kind of an image that I wanted. They would have bits of words in them, and I was interested in using those words, although fairly decoratively. And then I began to get billboard material, and I would do single words or parts of words.

more from X-TRA here.

Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge

Call for entries from the National Science Foundation:

Il2005_lgThe National Science Foundation (NSF) and Science created the Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge to celebrate that grand tradition—and to encourage its continued growth. In a world where science literacy is dismayingly rare, illustrations provide the most immediate and influential connection between scientists and other citizens, and the best hope for nurturing popular interest. Indeed, they are now a necessity for public understanding of research developments: In an increasingly graphics-oriented culture, where people acquire the majority of their news from TV and the World Wide Web, a story without a vivid and intriguing image is often no story at all.

We urge you and your colleagues to contribute to the next competition and to join us in congratulating the winners.

More here.  [Photo shows 2005 winner in the “illustration” category: “The Synapse Revealed.”]

The Marketplace of Perceptions

Behavioral economics explains why we procrastinate, buy, borrow, and grab chocolate on the spur of the moment.”

Craig Lambert in Harvard Magazine:

Like all revolutions in thought, this one began with anomalies, strange facts, odd observations that the prevailing wisdom could not explain. Casino gamblers, for instance, are willing to keep betting even while expecting to lose. People say they want to save for retirement, eat better, start exercising, quit smoking—and they mean it—but they do no such things. Victims who feel they’ve been treated poorly exact their revenge, though doing so hurts their own interests.

Such perverse facts are a direct affront to the standard model of the human actor—Economic Man—that classical and neoclassical economics have used as a foundation for decades, if not centuries. Economic Man makes logical, rational, self-interested decisions that weigh costs against benefits and maximize value and profit to himself. Economic Man is an intelligent, analytic, selfish creature who has perfect self-regulation in pursuit of his future goals and is unswayed by bodily states and feelings. And Economic Man is a marvelously convenient pawn for building academic theories. But Economic Man has one fatal flaw: he does not exist…

As recently as 15 years ago, the sub-discipline called behavioral economics—the study of how real people actually make choices, which draws on insights from both psychology and economics—was a marginal, exotic endeavor. Today, behavioral economics is a young, robust, burgeoning sector in mainstream economics, and can claim a Nobel Prize, a critical mass of empirical research, and a history of upending the neoclassical theories that dominated the discipline for so long.

More here.

The stigma of smoking

“As the smoker has become a pariah, sufferers from lung cancer have become the lepers of the twenty-first century.”

Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick in Spiked:

The advert features a young mother, clearly in the terminal stages of lung cancer, who expresses her feelings of guilt and remorse that a cancer caused by her own smoking will soon take her away from her children. In turn, her daughter expresses her anger and grief at the fact that her mother is expected to die shortly as a result of a disease resulting from her smoking. This advert is clearly designed to make parents who smoke feel guilty – and to make children of parents who smoke feel angry. Its objective is to use children as an instrument of the campaign to deter adults from smoking…

It is a sign of the times that there has been no storm of protest over the increasingly manipulative and moralistic character of anti-smoking propaganda. In the crusade to reduce mortality from smoking it is considered legitimate to exploit the deepest fears of parents and children. While the law seeks to prohibit smoking in public, the new anti-smoking advert seeks to proscribe it in the private sphere, fomenting domestic strife to achieve this objective. At a time when a wide range of civil liberties are under threat it is alarming that the strategy of using children to police their parents’ behaviour – reminiscent of totalitarian regimes – provokes so little public disquiet.

The immediate casualties of the war on smoking are people with lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

More here.

Looking for troubles

Moazzam Begg wanted to help his fellow Muslims – in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan. In the eyes of the CIA and MI5, that made him an enemy combatant. He tells Simon Hattenstone what drove him on.”

From The Guardian:

There is a word that recurs through Moazzam Begg’s conversation – identity. In his three years’ detention in Afghanistan and then at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, Begg had plenty of time to think about his identity. He talks quietly and eloquently about all the disparate elements that have made him what he is, but he still seems baffled by the end result. In January 2005, after three years of being held without charge, the Americans released him. They had found no link between him and terrorism – let alone between him and al-Qaida – for the simple reason that there was none. But Begg accepts he gave the security forces good reason to think there could be.

More here.


James Forsyth in The New Republic:

John Bolton is nothing if not direct. So it was unsurprising that when Time magazine asked him recently whether genocide is “the right term for what’s happening” in Darfur, he gave a blunt response: “Sounds right to me.”

Bolton is a fervent defender of the American national interest, with little appetite for liberal idealism. So his comment reveals something important about the Darfur debate: Even those who are generally skeptical of humanitarian intervention are prepared to admit that genocide is taking place in Darfur. But while almost everyone agrees that a genocide is happening, there is little agreement as to how the United States should respond, if at all. This is where advocates of intervention have failed. They have portrayed intervention in Darfur as a moral imperative–which it is–but have focused little on winning over foreign-policy realists to their cause.

In fact, there is a strong national-interest case to be made for intervention in Darfur. The failure to act is weakening the U.S. position on a continent of increasing importance to American energy needs and the fight against terrorism. How? By demonstrating that being under the Chinese umbrella guarantees you impunity.

More here.

Octavia Butler 1947-2006


Octavia E. Butler’s first creation in the world of science fiction was herself.

Before anybody told her that black girls do not grow up to write about futuristic worlds, Butler, the daughter of a shoeshine man and a maid, was already fashioning a place for herself in a white-dominated universe.

By remaining dedicated to her craft, sweeping floors and working as a telemarketer to pay the bills; by suffering the indignities that come with being among the first; and eventually winning a MacArthur Foundation grant, Butler carved a place for herself — and helped write a new world into existence.

more from the LA Times here.

contemporary art: china


In their effort to show that they aren’t scared of the Red Dragon, European cultural organizations – and in their trail artists, writers, scientists and others – are visiting China more frequently than ever. The Beijing Case, a somewhat conventional exchange programme organized by the Cultural Fund of the German Republic, brings together artists, film directors and writers from the two countries, among them Thomas Bayrle, Antje Majewski, Ma Yinglis and Cao Fei. Although the make-up of Cao’s work is extremely surreal, on the level of meaning and action it deals with completely ordinary experiences. Her film COSplayers, (2005) is both challenging and chilling: it juxtaposes the fantasy world of video games, in which young urban people in China spend their days, and the increasingly alienating expectations of society and family life. The piece sends a clear message about the management of fear among young people in China’s big cities. Welcome to the club.

more from Frieze here.

Colin MacInnes


Two young black dancers, brightly dressed and outrageously queer, sashay down a dull London street. All tight crotch and flamboyant gesture, they are peacocks in a warren of plucked pigeons. For sheer perverse effect on the desexed locals, one dancer halts the sidewalk flow to bend and inspect his shoe—“so that the recalcitrant bowler-hatted or tweed-skirted natives found themselves curiously obstructed by an exotic, questioning behind.”

A boy and girl reunite in a London dance club. They are young and in love; misery and violence are elsewhere. The music plays just for them. And then: “The side window crashed, and a petrol bomb came in and rolled among the dancers and exploded, and the electrics all cut out, and there were shouts and screaming.”

Thus, a worldview: irrestistible arses, and bombs on the dance floor.

Colin MacInnes, the novelist, essayist, critic, experimentalist, and inveterate fringe-dweller whose three essential works—City of Spades (1957), Absolute Beginners (1959), and Mr Love and Justice (1960)—form “the London trilogy,” is not exactly unknown, but neither is he quite known.

more from The Believer here.

Cocoa Linked to Lower Risk of Disease

From Scientific American:

Cocoa The Dutch have a long history with chocolate. Although native Mexicans and their Spanish conquerors first used the bitter bean–and reported on its tonic powers–a Dutchman was the first to extract modern cocoa and neutralize its bitterness with alkali. The modern chocolate bar was born. Now, results from a study of aging Dutch men have shown that cocoa consumers were half as likely to die from disease than those who did not eat the sweet treat.

Brian Bujisse of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven and his colleagues measured the cocoa intake of 470 men between 1985 and 2000 as part of the Zutphen Elderly Study, a longitudinal look at nearly 1,000 Dutch men between 65 and 84 years of age. Among those who ate the most chocolate–averaging more than four grams a day–average systolic and diastolic blood pressure was 3.7 and 2.1 millimeters of mercury lower than their chocolate-spurning peers. This result did not hold true for other sweet foods nor did it vary among men who also smoked, were inactive or consumed a lot of alcohol. And, despite being strongly associated with greater intake of calories, chocolate lowered the overall risk of cardiovascular or any other disease by as much as 50 percent.

More here.

How to get your brain geared up to remember

From Nature:

Memory Ever struggled to recall something you knew you ought to remember? Part of the problem might be that your brain just wasn’t ready to store the memory in the first place. Neuroscientists have discovered that how successfully you form memories depends on your frame of mind not just during and after the event in question, but also before it. “People didn’t realize that what the brain does before something happens influences the memory of that event,” says Leun Otten of University College London, UK, who led the research. “They looked just at the response.”

But it turns out that if your brain is ‘primed’ to receive information, you will have less trouble recalling it later. Memory is aided by meaning.

More here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Mess

Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books:

Two books, George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate and L. Paul Bremer’s My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, written with Malcolm McConnell, are essential for those who want to understand what went wrong. Packer’s book is written with great clarity and draws on his experience as one of The New Yorker‘s more perceptive reporters. He is clearly a thorough and careful notetaker. As a result, the people he writes about—Washington neoconservatives, CPA bureaucrats, and ordinary Iraqis whose lives were turned upside down by decisions made elsewhere—speak to the reader in their own voices. In analyzing the war, Packer begins with the ideologies that shaped its architects’ thinking and then brilliantly describes the unrealistic assumptions and bureaucratic maneuvering that resulted in the US taking over Iraq with no plan for its postwar administration. Bremer, as his title suggests, does not believe that the occupation was a complete disaster. He provides a briskly written account of an eventful year, assigning most of the blame to others, notably Donald Rumsfeld, General Ricardo Sanchez, and the members of the Iraqi Governing Council whom he appointed. The value of his book lies in his often inadvertent revelations of failure.

More here.

Vasily Grossman

Keith Gessen in The New Yorker:

52923_grossman_vasilyA new book of Grossman’s war writings—a collection taken from his notebooks and his published pieces—has just appeared in English as “A Writer at War” (Pantheon; $27.50), translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova. Beevor, whose book “Stalingrad” is the definitive account of the fighting in that city and relies heavily for color on Grossman’s reportage, is very fond of Grossman, and this collection weaves together his texts alongside lucid historical commentary to tell the story of the war through Grossman’s eyes. But what about Grossman himself? One wants to read the notebooks as a novel of education, recording a growing consciousness of the brutality and the corruption of the Soviet regime. In fact, a bit disappointingly, the Grossman we meet at the beginning of the book is already skeptical and wary of the regime. He notes the propaganda in the papers. “The bedraggled enemy continues his cowardly advance,” goes the headline, as the Germans take town after town. Interrogations of occasional German prisoners (at this point it was mostly Red Army soldiers who were being taken prisoner, in the hundreds of thousands) are absurd and demoralizing, a pathetic kind of Soviet tourism.

More here.

Barnosky and I

Jeff Barnosky in the Morning News (via Phronesisaical):

The other one, the one called Jeff Barnosky, is the one who buys things. Expensive things and confusing things. Seven bottles of Vaseline. A salt shaker. A Ford Escape. I walk through the streets of Dallas—even though I’ve never been there—and shop at every store. Last Tuesday, I apparently put a down payment on a condo in Orlando. I know of Jeff Barnosky through his charges. He likes waffles, strip clubs, and miniature golf. The other Barnosky rides the highways of America, filling up his 30 gallons with the good stuff, making sure that his engine hums as he takes in the heart of America, staying at the best hotels, ordering room service (more waffles!), and stopping at retail outlets to buy thousands of dollars in leotards.

I applaud the other Barnosky for pursuing his advanced degrees; at least I assume that’s what he’s doing with $40,000 in private student loans. At night, I try to watch television as the phone rings, asking me to pay my outstanding bills. I simply tell them that they must call the other Jeff Barnosky, the one who has digital cable at his winter house in Aspen and broadband at the place he summers in Montauk.

One night, after hearing my name praised on the local public radio station for taking care of their pledge drive in a single phone call (and breaking their heart in a follow-up call), I come home to find my girlfriend packing her bags. She looks up at me, on the verge of tears…

More here.  [Here’s the Borges version, in case you want to remind yourself of it.]

Tasmanian Devils Spread Cancer by Biting

From The National Geographic:

Tasmanian_f For ten years a facial cancer has threatened to wipe out Australia’s Tasmanian devils. The cancer is spreading fast, and scientists now say the disease transferred in tooth-baring combat. Now dubbed devil facial-tumor disease, the ailment produces enormous growths that push the animals’ teeth out of line and make it difficult for them to eat. Afflicted animals generally die of starvation within six months. The disease has spread rapidly. Today biologists report that few animals evade it long enough to live into old age, which for a Tasmanian devil means about five years.

Scientists have long known the disease is infectious, but nobody understood what caused it. Now  they’ve found the answer: The animals inject cancer cells into each other when they engage in mating battles.

More here.

A Plague of Cannibals

From Science:Ant_1

The wrath of god is the traditional explanation for plagues of marauding insects that devour everything in their path. What really drives the swarm, according to a new study of crickets, is a hankering for protein and salt, along with the fear of getting cannibalized. Every few years, Mormon crickets march across the western United States by the millions. Last spring, a team led by Stephen Simpson, an ecologist at the University of Sydney, Australia, found some clues to their motivations in the trail blazed by a 1-kilometer long Mormon cricket marching band. For one thing, the crickets were not starving because they left most edible plants untouched. But they gobbled anything high in protein, such as seed pods, flowers, and even mammal feces. Salt also seemed to be on the menu; the crickets swallowed soil if it was soaked with urine. And a strange clue was the discovery that many crickets were eating each other.

More here.

Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun

Roger Dobson and Abul Taher in the London Times:

MmAccording to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews.

More here.

Wings of desire

They have 32,000 major parts, 750,000 rivets, 23 miles of wiring and, when assembled, a pair will have a span wider than a football pitch. But if the wings of the Airbus A380, the biggest passenger plane ever built, are unprecedented in scale, it is the journey they take from north Wales to the company’s HQ in southern France that is truly astonishing. Aida Edemariam follows one wing on its epic voyage, and traces an extraordinary tale of engineering.”

From The Guardian:

A380_2When the A380 finally goes into service at the end of this year, it will carry about 550 people, making it the largest passenger aircraft ever to take to the skies. It is not the largest aircraft ever built (the Russian Antonov, a freighter, holds that honour), but at up to 35% greater capacity, it can claim to represent as titanic a revolution in commercial flying as Boeing’s jumbo – the 747-400 – was 36 years ago. Partly because of the unique challenges of its size (73m in length, the equivalent of seven London Routemasters queued nose to tail, and with a wingspan of 79.8m) and partly because of demands from airlines that planes should be quieter, less polluting and above all cheaper to fly per passenger, it has not been enough simply to tinker with designs for previous aircraft. Airbus went back to the drawing board and designed the A380 from scratch, which means it is also as major a technological achievement as Concorde. Being manufactured at 16 different European sites, however, using the skills of 1,500 suppliers in 30 countries, this singular aeroplane demands a level of international cooperation that the Concorde project did not even hint at.

More here.

Raised by Wolves

Our friend, Lindsay Beyerstein, of Majikthise, relates endearing details of her childhood while explaining that it is possible to be the child of academics and still be a decent person (unlike, say, Alex Rawls–yes, son of the John Rawls):

Cash20blog203_1My parents met in Berkeley in the 1960s while my dad was doing his PhD. Being raised by academic hippies is like being raised by wolves–you can rejoin human society, but you can never integrate seamlessly.

In my family, even pets and infants are addressed in complete sentences. There are no taboo subjects, except when the conservative relatives visit from the interior. Then we can’t talk about religion.

I remember the day in kindergarden when one little boy announced that he had a baby brother. How did that happen, someone asked. The kid said something about God. Other kids were floating theories about angel-storks. I felt I had to set the record straight. Many children cried. My mom was called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher was very upset.

“Did she tell the truth?” Mom asked.
“Oh, yes,” the teacher said, “In great detail.”
“I don’t think we have a problem, then,” Mom said.

My uncle, the philosopher, used to be a heavy smoker. One day when I was about six, I said, no doubt irritatingly,

“If I were you, I wouldn’t smoke.”

He answered, “If you were me, you’d smoke. I smoke.” I thought about that for a long time.

Another early philosophical memory is from a long car trip. My mom sent my dad to the library to get some books on tape to amuse me 10, and my brother 6. He came back with “The Death of Socrates” and “On The Road.” By the time we reached southern Washington my brother and I were sobbing inconsolably and mom looked about ready to kill dad. The mood brightened after we popped in “On the Road” and mocked the dated sex scenes as a family.

More here.  [Lindsay needs money for a new computer. Help her!]